Race to the Top isn't worth the $250 million

May 23, 2011

There are several issues your editorial on Race to the Top fails to address ("No time to lose," May 22). In a commentary published in the Baltimore Sun November 3, 2010, Laurie Taylor-Mitchell questions Baltimore County Superintendent Joe A. Hairston's plans for the distribution of the funds under Race to the Top, $5 million of which would go to a data collection system and $460,000 for two administrative positions. Under the terms of Race to the Top, funds will not go toward hiring more teachers. Another $5 million is planned for more "virtual learning" labs which have limited to no research to substantiate their effectiveness. The question not addressed is: Is it worth subordinating state control of our school plans to the federal government for a data system, two highly paid administrators and computers that supposedly teach students in their familiar territory of computer games and simulation?

An essential crux of Race to the Top is the concept of measuring how much growth teachers provide to students in a year. In business, this is often described as a "value added" factor. While it seems perfectly reasonable to want to assure a teacher adds to a student's education, creating a measurement system using sound, statistical methodology is unobtainable. In a business environment, the unit to which a value added factor is measured, the value added is the variable that is not constant. In a classroom, the lives of the students are hardly constant. Some teachers have a 50 percent or more turnover of students in their classes each year. And many of these students have moved so often that they have educational gaps. Additionally, many students have issues in their lives that have profound impacts on their ability to make educational progress. I have had students who have had parents die, have addiction issues and even mental health issues. None of these factors are accounted for in Race to the Top.

The bottom line question is whether we the citizens of Maryland will be getting our money's worth? The $250 million sounds superficially like a great deal of money, but will we really be getting a better education for our students in return for allowing the federal government to dictate how we run our schools? There are too many obvious questions about the tenets of Race to the Top to hand over control, especially for what we will receive.

Edward Kitlowski, Loch Hill

The writer is a teacher at Loch Raven High School.

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